Women took on bulk of childcare during British lockdown, study finds

Women carried out significantly more daily childcare duties than men during lockdown, for an average of more than three hours a day compared with just two hours for men, in households with children aged 18 or younger, according to new figures released by the Office for National Statistics.

The study also found that one in three women with school-aged children said their mental health had suffered as a result of home-schooling, compared with 20% of men – although the ONS warned that women generally were more likely to report their wellbeing had been affected by the cononavirus outbreak.

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“During lockdown women spent a far greater proportion of their time looking after children compared to men, with the difference amounting to over an hour and a quarter a day,” the ONS said in its analysis.

“Although we found there was an equal division of time when it came to activities like home-schooling, and playing or reading with children, the difference came from women spending much more time on activities like feeding, washing and dressing children.”

The study also found that only half of British parents said they felt confident to home-school their children during the coronavirus lockdown.

The statisticians interviewed more than 6,000 adults in two surveys, running from April to June, which revealed that many parents and children found themselves struggling with the demands of work and education at home during the lockdown.

About 52% of parents said their children struggled to continue their education while home-schooling, with more than three-quarters blaming lack of motivation.

But the survey also suggested that the total amount of home-schooling that took place during the period was more than some of the most pessimistic estimates.

The vast majority of parents with school-aged children said that homeschooling took place each week, reaching up to 96% of parents with children aged between five and 10. But there appeared some differences of opinion between parents and teenagers about the home-schooling that took place: just 65% of parents of those aged 16-18 said it had, compared with 82% of the teenagers who said they continued to study at home.

The amount of time spent learning at home also varied by age of the child and their siblings. Parents said children aged five to 10 years had completed an average of 10 hours of learning in a sample week, compared with 16 hours a week for children aged 11 to 15 years.

But the amount of home-schooling also varied depending on the presence of pre-school children in the family. Where there were babies or infants up to the age of four, the amount of time spent teaching children aged five to 10 years dropped by an average of two hours a week. About 86% of parents with babies or infants cited motivation as the major reason for older children struggling.

Only one in 10 parents said that lack of a digital device was a cause of difficulty for their children’s education, although that proportion rose to 21% in households with one parent.

“Exploring people’s experiences during these past challenging months, we have continually seen that not everyone’s experience is the same. This is true for parents. The age of the children, especially, makes a big difference to their experience and, of course, if there is another adult with whom to share the additional work and responsibilities,” said Hugh Stickland of the ONS.

“Most children engaged with home-schooling, with online resources playing an especially large role in older children’s education. Men have been more involved than before in ‘developmental’ aspects of childcare. But many parents voiced concerns about the impact the experience had on their work and on their own and their children’s well-being and mental health.”

The ONS survey covered families in England, Wales and Scotland, during the period, when schools were closed from 23 March other than for children of critical workers or vulnerable children. From 1 June, schools in England reopened to all pupils in reception, year one and year six classes. Schools in Scotland and Wales were open only for children of critical workers or vulnerable children during the period covered by the survey.

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